In The Observer, Jay Rayner asks, “who’d mourn for their old boozer when it comes back to life as a seafood gastropub?” after visiting the Urchin in Hove
These past three years the Urchin has been a seafood gastropub, selling shelves of craft beers and things that once swam. Some will find this infuriating. I’ve been doing this so-called job for almost two decades and in all that time the narrative has been a constant: how dare they take our pubs? I’m not a member of that tribe.
There is a short paper menu, supplemented by a changing blackboard menu. The food walks a jagged line between standard British coastal seafood cookery – oysters, potted crab – and something with its eye fixed firmly on southeast Asia.
There is a heap of clams in a forceful broth of tomato and chorizo. Mussels the colour of tangerines come in a beer broth with chunks of bacon and strands of crisped onions. There are crab cakes spiced with fresh chilli which are heavy on the meat.
The only misstep is the one dessert, a vanilla panna cotta with a blackberry compote. It has been made with so much gelatine, you could scoop it out and play squash with it. Our spoon bounces off the surface.
Their beer selection, arranged on a set of shelves next to the bar, complete with brown labels for inspection, is a fine thing. The labels carry legends like “Wild Beer Epic Saison”, “Crate Citra Sour” and “Burning Sky” as if it’s a game of word dissociation. They also make their own beer, Larrikin, on site.
Despite appearances it really is still a pub. But if you didn’t have the Malaysian prawns, with a side of chips, you’d be missing out. Just whisper the words “chips with curry sauce” to yourself.
Price: small dishes £7-£10.50; large dishes £10-£14; dessert £4; wines from £18
Tim Hayward of the Financial Times finds a “cracking” restaurant where the cooking is of “a very high standard” at Jöro, Sheffield
I have to come clean. I don’t much like tasting menus. I’ve experienced too many tiny plates and when they’re not derivative, the courses are formulaic.
There’s no way to cover that number of canapé-sized courses in a normal length review without boring everyone to death. In the case of Jöro, in Sheffield, though, this is less of an issue. When I ordered the nine-course tasting menu at this critically anointed place in Sheffield, some of the courses were outstanding but others were just extremely competent by the standards of tasting menus so, conveniently, we can skip them.
The dishes are not served in the order they’re listed on the menu, which might be part of some plan but just made the review harder to calibrate. Without order, a tasting menu is tapas – which arguably is a lot more fun.
“Roscoff onion, blue cheese and smoked wine” was exceptional, and made better by a healthy topping of chicken skin gravel, while a cuboid chunk of Moss Valley pork belly, topped with spring onion and sesame after having been clobbered with hoisin sauce, had me wondering why. I can see the wit, I can appreciate the flavour combination, but it’s just such a commonplace combination, reshaped, that it’s hard not to file it under “interesting finger food for a well-catered party”.
The duck is specified on the menu as “Creedy Carver”. This was a terrific little portion of bird. The skin bronzed, the flesh dense, juicy, with a hint of haemoglobin, “tender” without being flaccid. A beetroot purée dollop was a pleasant accompaniment and a chunk of hen-of-the-woods mushroom balanced the plate, not just visually but with properly bosky flavours. I would probably strangle my firstborn to eat the duck again.
Jöro is a cracking restaurant. The room is warm and enticing, the staff brilliant and the cooking of a very high standard. It’s an asset to Sheffield and if you’re there, go. You won’t regret it, particularly if you enjoy either the theatre or the submission of tasting menus.
Price: tasting menu from £50 for nine courses; set lunch from £22 for two courses
Marina O’Loughlin of The Sunday Times is not convinced by the “posh precinct mentality” of Hicce in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross
Simpler stuff works best: skewers of sweet red prawns, fragrant from woodsmoke and a spritz of citrus peel; homemade rye bread of rough-hewn, chewy beauty. (By contrast, a yellow gluten-free loaf delivers all the sensory pleasure of fellating a loofah.) Grilled petals of squid with more apple and teeny booby traps of fiercely hot chilli.
But none of it adds up to a cohesive meal. It’s like a mildly disorganised indoor picnic or barbecue: a procession of tastes and sensations with no discernible shape or flow. These are ideas rather than dinner. I read somewhere that it has a “Japanese/Norwegian twist”: yakitori meets smoked fish and rye bread. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Cover all those culinary buzzword bases.
It comes unstuck in the bigger courses: pork on charred Hispi cabbage, topped with an explosion of rich Reblochon cheese and slithery shimeji mushrooms. Tough, sinewy lamb neck with strident, coriander-heavy green mojo… Of course, all these are sharing plates. “Best experiences are shared,” says the menu, making me come over a bit Joey from Friends. Why must I always share? Why? I’m fed up of either fighting over the last scrap of food or leaving it on the plate in polite British passive aggression. Can’t I just eat my own bloody dinner for once? This is not Hicce’s fault, in fairness, it is still the modish way. But somehow, here, it’s particularly wearying.
Price: £66 for two minus drinks and service charge
The Telegraph‘s Keith Miller finds a blend of authentic Indian and British curry house cuisine at Gunpowder in London SE1
They serve a few regional specialities, ranging from Kashmir in the north to Kerala in the south, and some dishes announce their home-stylishness (“Aunty Sulu’s rabbit pulao”), but their shtick is more about taking flavours and textures that anyone who’s eaten “Indian” food in the UK will recognise and sharpening the focus a little, adding a touch of colour and clarity, thinking about presentation in a modern and, yes, Instagram-friendly, but by no means fussy, way.
It’s a tiny bit odd to serve pulled duck with uthappam (a spongy rice and lentil pancake) as if it were a taco or a bao, given that uthappam is associated with the largely vegetarian south; similarly, a plate of meltingly tender pork ribs with “tamarind katchumber” felt out of place – though the dish claims inspiration from the remote province of Nagaland, which, as well as being home to the world’s hottest chillies, has a Christian, and so I suppose porcivorous, majority.
But this sense of, if not quite fusion, then a definite dialogue between the traditions of the subcontinent and the wider world, or the wider world as refracted through the London restaurant scene of the late 2010s, seemed exciting and admirable – and there was plenty of “authenticity” on display as well, if that’s what floats your kettuvallam, from the fragrant and beautifully presented pulao to a southern-style dry beef curry “fry” with green peppers.
Price: £90 for two. Score: 4.5/5
Kin + Deum, London, is “like Thai restaurants used to be before all those English boys came back from Thailand and explained that this wasn’t how they ought to be at all,” says Giles Coren in The Times
First out were the Thai dumplings, looking and feeling and tasting much like Cantonese siu mai, with their firm, wrinkled yellow skins and their chopped minced pork and chicken filling, crunched up with water chestnut. They sat in a beautiful blue and white floral plate with a splatter of soy sauce and a scatter of dry fried scallions and torn fresh coriander leaf, and were a delight.
Spicy Thai tacos were a nod (polite or impolite, it was hard to tell) to the recent hipsterisation of Thai food, but the nice ground pork, lemongrass, red chilli, onion and mint filling would have been happier almost anywhere else, I think, than in a taco shell.
Salted basil chicken, on the other hand, rocked: shards of bird meat marinated in fish sauce for richness and poke and then deep-fried and served with fried basil leaves and a sriracha sauce for dipping.
Then a wonder: “Siam’s aubergine”. An amazing bit of cooking, the vegetable slice fully encrusted in a crisp, light, fried crumb, firm enough to lift up from one end and hold horizontal, but the flesh inside beautifully soft and surrendered without a scintilla of sogginess, just a hint of green left in the fibres to give that fresh banana-y tang an eggplant will hold on to if you let it.
Price: £35 a head. Score: cooking 7/10; service: 8/10; space: 6/10; total: 7/10
The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park’s reopened spa is a jewel in the site’s crown, says Suzannah Ramsdale in the Evening Standard
For luxury hotels like the Mandarin Oriental it’s all in the detail. The changing rooms come with fluffy towels and robes, the floors are heated, lockers have in-built charging points and even the key is a quartz healing crystal bracelet.
New Yorker Adam D Tihany was tasked with the redesign of the spa and has drawn heavily on Chinese influences throughout, adding to the general feeling of calm. From the vitality pool to the pretty pond at the bottom of the main stairwell, the soothing sound of water follows you throughout.
Celebrity skin pro Linda Meredith has worked up a menu of results-focused facials; there’s a Philip Kingsley hair and scalp treatment as well as products by Aromatherapy Associates and Sodashi.
The big partnership, though, is with innovative Swiss skincare brand Nescens. We tried the positively named Nescens Better Ageing Facial. In equal parts relaxing and effective, the aim of the treatment is to stimulate circulation and lymphatic drainage.
After skin has been cleansed, it all kicks off with a tingling enzyme peel. While that does its thing, the therapist will massage the scalp, arms and neck to release tension. Dynamic massage movements are used on the face to activate the collagen and to restore radiance to skin, before using a cupping machine to kickstart lymphatic drainage.
Price: £145 for 50 minutes, £225 for 80 minutes